TomTom and Garmin are two of the top brands offering car sat nav systems. We’ve analysed both brands to identify the key differences between them and find out why users may prefer one brand over the other. Our review looks at everything from the display and interface to the POI feature, maps and battery life so you know exactly what to expect when you purchase a sat nav from one of these popular brands.
TomTom has been innovating and developing navigation tech since 1991. This top brand is headquartered in Amsterdam and their product focus is mostly GPS navigation for vehicles. They are continuously developing their products and systems and have made a reputation for themselves as one of the specialists in independent location technology.
Garmin is also a leading provider of navigation products. They have branched out and offer GPS technologies to suit a range of travel and activity purposes. In addition to automotive sat nav systems, they also offer navigation products for aviation, marine, outdoor and sports settings. Their devices are known for being user-friendly, high quality and excellent value for money.
Tomtom vs Garmin Comparison Table
|Our Verdict||Great for traffic updates||User-friendly and more tailored options e.g. overlanding|
|User Interface||Easy to read||More information displayed|
|Screen Size||5″ – 6″||5″ – 6.95″|
|Screen Resolution||800 x 480 pixels (6″)||1200 x 720 pixels (5.5″)|
|Battery Life||60 minutes||60 minutes|
|Includes Map Updates?||Yes (World)||Yes (Australia and New Zealand)|
|Internal Memory||8-16GB||Not listed. Can use a 4-32GB SD card (not included)|
|Other Features||Lane guidance, latest maps, speed cameras||Trip Advisor, lane assist and driver alerts|
|Check Price||Amazon, TomTom, The Good Guys||Amazon, Catch, The Good Guys|
Devices from both brands offer high-resolution multi-touch screens, they both use voice-guided navigation prompts, voice control, 3D maps, POI databases, live traffic updates and rerouting. Generally speaking, whatever you can do on one you can do on the other. Both Garmin and TomTom devices have live updates on traffic and a selection of support functions that make life easier for the user.
Whether you prefer TomTom or Garmin, you will be able to find sat navs from each that suit all budgets. The cost will depend on the model you choose, the size (5-6.95 inch) and its features. Both brands offer high-quality models to suit every price point. They both have a great range of products so there are plenty to choose from based on cost and trip requirements.
Overall, Garmin maps are the best for those in Europe, while TomTom maps are best for those in USA. So, what does this mean for Australian users? There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two when it comes to use in Australia. Either way, the directions tend to be accurate and both systems update the maps regularly to ensure local speed limits, speed camera and road information is up to date.
Many of the TomTom sat navs seem to include worldwide maps as standard while Garmin tends to be limited to a region rather than international. This limitation can lead to less mapping data being available if you plan to travel internationally so a TomTom device may be best for an international trip.
Both brands include lifetime maps and traffic updates. Some also include alerts for hazards and speed cameras.
When comparing TomTom vs Garmin devices, we found they both offer around the same battery life in between charges. Some options such as the TomTom Go 520 don’t have a light indicator to alert you to low battery levels which can be frustrating.
Unless you are going on a short journey (less than an hour) we’d recommend plugging the sat nav in to preserve the battery life. You’re not going to get more than an hours use from the battery. This is true for the vast majority of sat navs on the market so don’t forget the charging cable.
The Garmin devices offer better readability thanks to the larger text and imaging they use. The interface and mapping is colourful and easy to read. When using a Garmin, you can glance at the screen and immediately know the route you need to take. If you are looking for an easy to use GPS system the Garmin maps and display screen come out on top.
The TomTom screen does not display the map and information quite as clearly but does offer more status and route information. If you like having lots of information available to you TomTom is good as you don’t have to press any buttons to see a status summary. This can be helpful especially if you tend to like knowing the ETA or next instruction for your route but it can also make the screen feel a bit too crowded.
Another factor that impacts the sat nav is the screen resolution. Garmin’s top end models offer high-resolution screens with higher frame rates to make them clearer and well defined. TomTom screens tend to be a lower resolution so are not quite as crisp and the screens tend to display more route information.
The TomTom devices have a regular traffic service and also offer a real-time HD traffic service. This HD service is often included for free for a year. These updates tend to be more accurate than the traffic service Garmin provides. Many users praise TomTom for their accurate traffic information and the multiple routes offered to avoid areas of bad traffic to save time on journeys.
Both Garmin and TomTom allow Bluetooth connection to link your phone and the device. In addition to Bluetooth, some TomTom devices also have built-in wi-fi for easier updates. Wi-fi is also available on some of the Garmin DriveSmart options but not only the other sat navs in their range.
Standard charging is via USB and the sat nav should come with the relevant power cables and car charger. In addition to power connections, higher end sat navs can also be connected to a reverse camera which many users find helpful.
Points of Interest
One of the things we like about the Garmin Points of Interest data is that it is well categorised so you can find exactly what you are looking for with ease. In addition to this, once you have found the right store it will display the nearest options and will show you which ones are getting closer as you drive. This means you can pick the closest one you are already going in the direction of rather than automatically being routed to the nearest one by the system and needing to find somewhere to turn the car around.
TomTom devices tend to be a bit more generic about places of interest so you are more likely to receive large, popular results or broad search results. This is fine if you have someone in the passenger seat to find the right location or Google search the right address but it can be problematic when travelling alone and routing the system to somewhere specific.
The TomTom phone app offers more features and performs better than the Garmin alternative. This is likely because the TomTom application has been available and receiving regular updates since 2017. In the fast half of 2021, it has received 2 updates and improvements indicating it is being well maintained and constantly improved. The Garmin app doesn’t receive as much attention and maintenance with its last update being in 2019.
Depending on the specific device you choose, there may be some other features that are included. These vary and it is worth checking the specifications of the sat nav you are considering. As expected, the price of these systems increases as their size and functionality increases.
For example, the TomTom START 52 includes free map updates for life and a lane warning feature although users have found accuracy is sometimes an issue with the lane warning so it’s always best to double-check using the road signs. The TomTom GO Supreme offers world maps, alerts for traffic and speed cameras, last-mile navigation and a find my car function too.
The Garmin DriveSmart 65 includes built-in wi-fi for map updates, Bluetooth for connecting your phone and voice activation. It also offers landmark-based instructions in situations where this makes more sense. The Garmin DriveSmart 51 LM has Tripadvisor integrated to help find hotels and attractions.
Making Your Selection
If you are looking for a user-friendly sat nav that will be up and running in no time or you’re looking for a sat nav that is tailored to RV or overlanding trips then take a look at the Garmin range. Their large text and colourful maps make the screens easy to read and easy to understand. The screen resolution also tends to be higher and the POI data is well categorised to make finding key locations straightforward.
If you prefer a device that gives you lots of status information as well as excellent real-time updates on the local traffic then take a look at the TomTom range. TomTom also has a better smartphone app so if you plan to be using your phone for additional support and control TomTom is better suited.
As we mentioned in this TomTom vs Garmin review, the device you should makes a big difference to the overall experience you will have. Each brand offers excellent devices to suit all budgets.